Atherton environmental committee in doghouse

Questions revolve around the use of the committee's website

By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

With accusations of misconduct and misuse of funds flying, Atherton's City Council has suspended one of its own committees, the Environmental Programs Committee, until its activities and finances can be investigated.

The dispute began in November when council member Kathy McKeithen discovered that the website of the Environmental Programs Committee contained an argument against putting a new town library in Holbrook-Palmer Park.

In October, a split City Council had voted to choose the park as the "preferred site" for a new library.

Ms. McKeithen, council member Elizabeth Lewis, and residents Valerie Gardner and Frank Merrill Jr. are the only current members of the Environmental Programs Committee. It has openings for eight more members.

After Ms. McKeithen complained about the website, it was taken down. According to Ms. Gardner, the committee returned $9,600 in sponsorships, "because our website is down and no longer providing the visibility we committed to our sponsors."

In a report to the council, Interim City Manager John Danielson said Atherton residents had "questioned whether the EPC represents the views and opinions of the Town Council or, is an independent body creating opinion pieces on local governance issues."

"I have to say," said council member Jim Dobbie, "that ever since I've been on the council I've felt that the EPC has been out of control."

"I would certainly like to see it disbanded," he said.

But other council members worried that if the committee was eliminated, the town would lose a large federal grant it has been given to promote energy efficiency in private homes in town.

Mayor Bill Widmer said he favored having the town look further into the committee's activities. "The issue at hand is ... were or were not any rules broken with the spending, with the postings on the website," he said.

Town officials said they need to do more research. "I'm not accusing anybody of any wrongdoing," said Mr. Danielson. "I couldn't trace back on the website where the opinion pieces were coming from."

Town Attorney William Conners said the town does not yet know exactly what the committee may have done inappropriately. "Right now we have more questions than we have answers," he said. Among other things the town needs to look into, "we need to have a better handle on who is approving expenditures," he said.

Council members voted to suspend all activities and meetings of the committee until the council meets in January.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 29, 2011 at 7:21 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Perhaps there was a clue that something was wrong when this committee has not met (or at least has not published the required agenda for a meeting) since July 13 and has not published its minutes since the January 19th meeting.

Is not membership on such committees by council members supposed to provide oversight? Where were the council members who sit on this committee during this time?

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 29, 2011 at 9:53 am

Atherton seems to be a town full of people that think they can do whatever they want, to hell with rules or laws.

Like this comment
Posted by Don't cross Kathy
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Dec 29, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Heaven forbid anyone should have an opinion against our town savior. If Kathy wants the library in the park, who are we to ask for the citizen's to have a voice, much less an opinion? The EPC has to express the opinions of the slightest majority on the council? Where does it say that when you volunteer to help our town? No wonder they. Can't fill seats on committees!

Like this comment
Posted by Susanne
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Dec 29, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Isn't the environmental committee there to offer advice and opinions to the council? Of course, once the council makes a decision (hopefully using the committee's input) the committee shouldn't be trying to undermine that decision. Why does the committee need a web site anyway, and why did it solicit sponsors for the web site? Such a web site, I would think, should be under the umbrella of the city's official web site, not a completely independent one.

Like this comment
Posted by Louise
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Dec 30, 2011 at 12:15 am

Just a reminder from a very long time resident with a good memory. The actual Palmer estate house was burned to the ground (containing countless antiques and an excellent library of books accumulated from several of the old estates that had also been famous for their own collections) -- this was around 1960 maybe a little earlier. The structure now referred to as the "main house" was never inhabited by anyone, but was almost immediately, simply slapped up as a very shabby replacement, only to complete the park gift as had been originally planned. Please believe me, the only resemblance to the wonderful original home is that they were both painted white. Perhaps the Towns Historian can come up with photo for the Almanac's History Corner shot. It was wonderful.
So for whatever perspective it might add to all this: Loosing the "main house" would be no tragedy if it can't be moved over, and there is actually, an historic precedent for having a great library on the Park grounds.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Dec 30, 2011 at 6:56 am

The Main House serves as the Park Office it provides office space for the Park Foundation and Administrative needs, a maintenance shop, space for the arts committee, storage space, a meeting room for community meetings, and a lunch room. Those needs will still exist after the main house is torn down for the library. Will a new Park Office building need to be built? How much land will that consume?

The Park and Recreation Commission, (like members of the EPC) disagreed with the council on the library in the park issue as well. They suggested the council survey the residents of the town before deciding to add a library to the park. The Council declined.

The EPC's web site was designed to provide information on a number of Environmental issues: Landscape, Irrigation, and Water, Clean Air, Green Construction, Solar Drive, Waste Reduction, Home Energy Audits, Etc.

For years the EPC organized several events during Earth Week involving Atherton's nine schools. The schools were given cash prizes as awards for the Earth Week Projects. The funds for the cash prizes resulted from donations from sponsors. The web site promoted the events and thanked the sponsors.

Like this comment
Posted by Tsk tsk
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 30, 2011 at 11:57 am

Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis just can't seem to work well with others. When they don't get their way, their crony Valerie Gardner needs to break rules and laws to run the EPC according to their political agenda. We need to shut down Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis also.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

First Sunnyvale, then Australia: Mountain View's Le Plonc plots expansion
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 2,466 views

Juggling Renewables
By Sherry Listgarten | 35 comments | 1,964 views

Premarital and Couples: Living as Roommates?
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,420 views

Homestead Faire at Hidden Villa 4/27
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 703 views

A trial run
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 537 views


The Almanac Readers' Choice ballot is here

It's time to decide what local business is worthy of the title "The Almanac Readers' Choice" — and you get to decide! Cast your ballot online. Voting ends May 27th. Stay tuned for the results in the July 17th issue of The Almanac.